By Walter S. Coppage
I’m Nirvana looking for Butch Vig. I’m probably not Nirvana. I’m Hootie and the Blowfish looking for whoever produced their album. I’m looking for the Butch Vig of publishing.
By the end of 2014, I looked ready to make final tweaks and edits and it would be ready for the world. Then I got engaged. Then I bought my first house. Then I got married and the draft sat there stood up at the altar “Runaway Bride” style.
I worked on a book for three years. Fast Draft and Revision Hell with Candace Havens. Revisions of chapters. Killed a ton of darling chapters that just didn’t seem to make the cut.
That summer I didn’t want to return to the project I worked years on. I wanted to write something that summer. I wrote a book about teaching. The next summer, after a crazy year in the classroom I had no desire to write at all. I knew I would want to write and I knew exactly what moment it would be. The second day back at school. An epic quest to Office Depot was taken. Printer ink. Folders. Pens. Highlighters. I was going to slay this draft once and for all.
Then like always, school takes it out of me. I barely have time to eat much less write and revise. I started up “The Artist’s Way” with a friend of mine as a way to launch our creativity and meet our goals. We met on Saturday mornings and busy schedules got in the way. The 12-week course took five months.
We wanted to keep meeting but we needed to figure out how to be productive. We have books about writing and we can talk about writing but we need butts in the seats. How do we make ourselves accountable? How do we make it happen? What’s a realistic goal that doesn’t flip our stress levels when we don’t meet it?
We wrote out some goals and we would be in constant contact about how we were doing. I work in macaronis. When I was in kindergarten, you got a macaroni every time you did something well. I started giving myself macaroni for every half hour I worked. My goal was 20 macaronis for the month. This means I’m working almost every day on the story. I have 16 macaronis in a row.
I needed to read my latest draft first to see where I was. Every time I read it, I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t recognize things in the two years that passed. I needed to reread this. I needed to relearn the old songs before I could go out on tour. I had to find the reason why this story was important to me?
Worries of over editing covered my thinking. Would it never be enough? Would I stay in this editing loop the rest of my life? Was I scared of someone reading it that wasn’t close to me? I felt like George McFly. “I don’t know if I could take that kind of rejection.”
Once I got through those first chapters, I started seeing some good writing. I started seeing things that needed to be read. I’d need to rework those chapters or start the book in a better place. For the last few weeks I’ve been rereading the draft. I’ll put the chapter on a note card and write what’s good, what’s bad, what is missing. Sometimes I read great stuff. Sometimes I read stuff I thought was great and question if it’s still great. I’m so used to it that it doesn’t cut it after the 50th read.
Clutter needs to be cleared out but how do I know the difference between a really great side note and fat? I don’t want to cut this to the bone and then you’ve got an anorexic version of a great story.
I’m near the end of my reading and don’t know if I need to revamp a few chapters, cut clutter and enhance themes or just tear it down. Am I the same person writing this at 36 that I was at 30? When I’m not present in the macaroni of the moment, I start getting overwhelmed with revisions and cuts getting in line for me to make. Some days feel like real progress. Other days I feel like putting my draft in the dumpster.
A published author friend of mine said I needed to get a Beta Reader before I throw a ton of money on an editor. She a Beta Reader made her cry and she went through 15 before she has her fulltime Beta Reader now. She said to do Beat Sheets to know where the story and arcs are going and Beta Readers will save me time and money down the line.
Fiver has Beta Readers but I don’t really want “Unmerciful Editing” in your Beta Reader Headline. I want to find a Beta Reader or Editor who is going to read it, tell me what I’ve got, strengths, weaknesses, U-Turns, Clutter. It’s not about finding a Beta Reader. It’s about finding the Beta Reader for me and my story.
I want someone who gets my story. I want someone who is going to help me make this story the best it can be. It doesn’t have to get me a book deal. It doesn’t have to take me away from my day job. I just want to be able to say that’s the best I could do on this and let it go. Then let it out into the world. I’m looking for Butch Vig not to turn it into “Nevermind” or “Siamese Dream.” I need a Beta Reader or editor to love helping this see the light of day.
“Still, at the end of the day, what everyone’s aspiring to do is to record a song that connects with somebody, that connects firstly with you as an artist or songwriter, and then connects with your audience.”-Butch Vig